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Exclusive: Ex-Navy SEAL Dishes on His Debut Novel

LifeZette spoke to author Jack Carr about the Dept. of Defense's approval of his new thriller — and his protagonist, James Reece

Plenty of novelists write thrillers each year featuring tough-guy protagonists — and hope these guys become the next Bob Lee Swagger or Scot Harvath of the literary world.

Not many of those protagonists, however, have the backing of someone who likely could be the protagonist of his own series of thriller novels.

Jack Carr is making his debut as a novelist this week with “The Terminal List,” which follows Navy SEAL Lt. Cmdr. James Reece as his last mission ends in catastrophe. After an ambush that leaves those closest to him dead, Reece jets home — only to discover more loss and tragedy.

The patriot discovers there is a conspiracy that goes to the top of his own government that specifically targets him, his men, and those closest to him. Reece sets off to use his training to avenge those he loves and to bring the corrupt to justice.

Carr is a former Navy SEAL sniper himself. He used his own experience and knowledge from over 20 years in the military to create a deeply fascinating and authentic read with “The Terminal List.” This strong debut novel hits digital and physical bookshelves on Tuesday, March 6.

LifeZette spoke to the author, who lives with his wife and three children in Park City, Utah, about his novel, his experiences as a Navy SEAL, and the approval he secured from the Department of Defense.

Question: You mention in your intro that you had to submit a manuscript to the Defense Office of Prepublication and Security Review. How difficult was the process of getting the book approved — and did you face resistance in your effort to take your experience and knowledge into the world of fiction?

Answer: Even though this is a work of fiction, I wanted to make sure I honored the commitments to my former security clearances. To ensure I did it right, I enlisted the help of a law firm to help me wade through the legalities associated with publishing a book as a former member of the military.

The language is difficult for someone without a law degree to decipher — but when the directive is interpreted conservatively, even if I wrote a cookbook, with no military tie-ins whatsoever, by the broad language of the directive I would still need to submit it to the Defense Office of Prepublication and Security Review. When you’ve had a security clearance, you are required to submit anything intended for public release to the Department of Defense, regardless of topic, to ensure it does not compromise national security.

I admit that it’s bit unnerving to know that as a private citizen, the government has the right to review anything I write for the rest of my life, but that is the price you pay when you sign on to defend this great nation.

Related: It’s a Patriotic Duty to See the New ‘Death Wish’

I was surprised when “The Terminal List” was returned as “cleared as amended,” which means they redacted a few parts. Everything discussed in the novel is part of the public domain and all of it has been on the front pages of most newspapers at some point over the past 16 years, but be that as it may, it’s redacted in the novel.

I kept the redactions in so as not to have to resubmit for another review, which would have eaten up additional time in the publishing process. The DOD advertises 30 days to review a submission. They were a few days late, but that’s OK. Having spent 20 years in the military, I thought that wasn’t bad.

As far as resistance, there has been a lot of focus, particularly about SEALs’ writing nonfiction books, and there was a lot of pressure as I was getting out [that was] applied from senior-level leadership to not write books about one’s experience on the teams. Even though I am writing fiction, I couldn’t help but think about that pressure. In the end, the military part of my life is behind me, and my current life is that of a writer. Just as the profession of arms was a calling — so is the profession of writing. I am not in the military anymore. I am a writer.

“In the end, the military part of my life is behind me, and my current life is that of a writer.”

Q: You really put your character, James Reece, through the ringer in your novel. He takes many blows! Is Reece someone we may see in future adventures from you? He obviously has a long history with the SEALs — so a prequel could even be a possibility.

A: Ha! He certainly does get put through the ringer. I have always been fascinated with struggle and overcoming adversity. That’s probably why I sought out what was touted as the toughest training ever devised by a modern military.

The characters I identified with growing up all seemed to be tested in some sort of physical and mental crucible — from Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” to the “Rambo” novels by David Morrell, to movies like “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The protagonist always takes a beating and has to keep moving forward. I think there is a good life lesson there.

I don’t want to give the ending of the first book away, so I’ll just keep it at that. You may also have noticed there are a few subtle references to Reece’s father and grandfather, so there are options for multi-generational stories. I am exploring a bit of that in my current novel. You’ll just have to wait and see …

Related: Five Novels Every Conservative Needs to Read

Q: A lot of thriller writers have big military audiences: Stephen Hunter, Brad Thor, Lee Child, etc. In tackling your first novel, were there any specific writers you looked at for inspiration?

A: Each of those authors were huge influences on me, and they were also kind enough to lend me a helping hand. Brad Thor, in particular, has been both an inspiration and a mentor. It’s safe to say that there would not be a “Terminal List” without Brad Thor. Or probably more accurately, it would still be sitting on my bedside table. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for his generosity and guidance. Just incredible.

I grew up devouring anything by David Morrell and Nelson DeMille. Then later in life I discovered Vince Flynn and read everything he wrote. Stephen Hunter has long been a favorite. I read “Point of Impact” just before entering the military and have never missed one of his novels. The sniper in Bob Lee Swagger seemed to speak to me as I started down that path in the military.

Then, for many years, all I read were books on warfare. I felt like that is what I owed the men I led. It feels great to be out and free and able to read the types of novels I loved growing up … and it feels even better to be writing them. It’s a dream come true. It is also helpful to be able to incorporate and weave in the knowledge from my study of warfare into fictional novels. It certainly cuts down on the research time.

It is safe to say that there would not be a “Terminal List” without Brad Thor.

Q: What made you want to jump into the world of fiction writing?

A: I wanted to do two things from a very early age. One was to serve the country in special operations, and the other was to write fiction in this genre. As my time in uniform was coming to an end, I decided it was time to give my other lifelong dream a shot. I didn’t want to look back from my deathbed and wonder what could have been.

So I went all in and wrote a novel. I’d always been fascinated with revenge and the ancient Japanese Bushido traditions, so I explored that interest through the eyes of a man hardened by the past 16 years at war. I wondered what would happen if a man with skills honed in the fires of combat, someone who had spent his entire adult life studying the art of warfare, was put in a position to use those skills knowing he was, for all practical purposes, already dead.

The political military thriller always held an allure for me growing up and was a natural fit as I made the transition from operator to author. The idea for this first novel came to me as I was getting out of the military. I wanted my debut novel to be a hard-hitting primal novel of revenge. I wanted to come out of the gate strong.

It was also very therapeutic in that the emotions the protagonist experiences in the novel come from real-world experiences I had during my time in special operations. I took those emotions and applied them to a fictional story, which seems to have added some depth to the main character. It was a pure joy to write — and I’m currently hard at work on book two. I am loving every minute.

“The Terminal List” is available on Tuesday, March 6, 2018.

PopZette editor Zachary Leeman can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter

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PopZette editor Zachary Leeman can be reached at [email protected].